How Witworks Develops And Sells Consumer Products Conceptualized By Its Online Community Of Users
Witworks is a Bangalore-based collaborative invention company founded by Somnath Meher, Ankit DP and Chandrashekhar Iyer. Incubated and funded by the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, Witworks develops and sells consumer products conceptualized by its online community of users.
Chandrashekhar Iyer has completed his graduation and post graduation in Mechanical Engineering. Ankit DP has a Dual Degree, with Bachelors in Mechanical Engineering and Masters in Thermal Science and Engineering and Somnath Meher has pursued Major in Architecture and Minor in Economics. All the three fellas are pass outs from IIT Kharagpur (2007-2012 batch).
Please read the following interview to know more about the team at Witworks, their learning experiences and a lot more.
The Co-Founders - (from L to R) Somnath Meher, Ankit DP, Chandrashekhar Iyer
CE: Could you please tell our readers more about Witworks?
Witworks' Team: Witworks is a Bangalore based collaborative invention company that designs, manufactures and sells consumer products created by its online community.
The model enables anyone from across the world, to join Witworks as a part of its community and come up with product ideas for everyday problems. The ideas can be anything; sketches or doodles, or intricate 3D models. The entire community sees, reviews and helps improve these ideas over a period of time. Based on the community’s feedback and a series of expert evaluations, the top ideas are picked for development and given shape as inventions!
CE: What led to the launch of Witworks? What was the driving force for the founders?
Witworks' Team: Witworks is a startup by three alumni of IIT Kharagpur: Somnath Meher, Ankit DP and Chandrashekhar Iyer. The three of us met as under-graduate batchmates. We would meet up in dark alleys, abandoned lab basements and un-affordable cafes to discuss ideas. Ideas, which we believed could change the way people do things. Sustaining on half-fried eggs and custom-cooked instant noodles, we created a small group of like-minded people (i.e. both UG and PG students) and started working on multiple products under the banner of "Think Innoventions". This included a Forward Osmosis technology to desalinate water, a digital pen to record handwritten information and, an ergonomically designed foot-operated faucet.
We participated in multiple business plan competitions as students, and won a quite a handful of them. By October 2011, Witworks (registered as Think Innoventions Pvt. Ltd.) got funded and incubated under the Technology Business Incubators (TBI) program by DST, Govt. of India at the Science and Technology Entrepreneurs Park, IIT Kharagpur with INR 10,00,000 seed amount.
This is when we decided to focus on a single product, the digital pen technology, and moved quite briskly on developing it. Unfortunately, we met a technical dead-end in the early half of 2012, and had to discontinue work on it. This was about the time we had to halt Think, and take up different jobs. However, we stayed connected over phone/mails even while being in different cities and at times, different countries; and regularly discussed plans around getting back together to pursue our lost dream. Two years later, we met again; only this time with a lot more conviction, maturity, and of course, excitement. And so, Witworks was born. The three of us quit our jobs to work full-time on this, and launched Witworks in March 2014. Somnath was with Google, Ankit with ITC and Chandrashekhar with Tata Steel, after graduating from college. Besides, Somnath and Ankit have forgone admission offers to Indian School of Business, Hyderabad for the joining batch of 2014 to pursue Witworks.
CE: If you could go back and do it all over again from the time you first began planning for your company, what would you do differently the second time around, and why?
Witworks' Team: Witworks’ business model requires engagement with multiple external partners and 3rd party vendors for various services in the value chain. As we got into developing the MVP for our web application, and manufacturing the pilot product, we realized that the core processes of Witworks have to be managed internally, by building in-house expertise and getting the right people on-board. Also, in case of external engagement, there are unforeseen set-backs which need to be accounted for with a back-up plan; especially given the manufacturing set-up in India. If given a chance, we would like to go back and plan the 3rd party engagements better, based on the learning from our experiences.
CE: What is the worst business advice you ever received, and did you follow it?
Witworks' Team: One of our advisors once suggested that we collaborate with Quirky, and act as an outsourcing partner for their product design and sales in India. He pretty much hinted that we should aim at establishing a support/service system for the biggest player in this space (if not a competitor, as of yet). Needless to say, we took it with a pinch of salt. Although, the suggestion was made keeping in mind the current service-based business ecosystem in India, it was completely against the aim we have of being a collaborative consumer product development company in the country.
CE: What is the single best piece of business advice that helped shape who you are as an entrepreneur today, and why?
Witworks' Team: We began working under the name “Thinksters”, till a friend of ours’ remarked that “You can’t have a crappy name that’s going to stick to your forehead over the next 10 years of your existence.” The name had a certain gravity to it, but was just not what we wanted to be associated with. We wanted something more imaginative, appealing and just the right amount of grand. And hence, we changed the name (and everything that goes around it) to “Witworks”. In fact, we follow it as a rule to ensure that we never get anything out that’s even remotely below par of what we believe is truly awesome and we stand for; be it the content (graphic/textual) we create, or even the products we make.
CE: What do you think is the key to being a successful startup?
Witworks' Team: Firstly, we aren’t a successful start-up yet to be able to comment on this. But from what we have learnt from our experience, we believe that the 2 key things that are quintessential in building a start-up are:
A. You need to be really passionate about your idea/product, and honestly believe in it. It is much easier to convince the world, when you are convinced yourself. Besides, with every hurdle, be it in terms of internal operations or competition in the space, it is this belief that would drive you to make sure you do it the best way.
B. The right team. It’s not just about having complimentary skill-sets; the team also needs to be on the same plane, intellectually and ideologically. And this has to be retained with every new member getting on-board as the venture grows.
CE: Could you give us a technical overview of Witworks?
Witworks' Team: The Witworks model is quite elaborate, starting from idea collection, to product development, to manufacturing, to product sales. There are three major teams at Witworks that run the entire show.
The Marketing/Sales/Business Development team takes the responsibility of promoting the concept of collaborative invention in the country, and reach out to the relevant makers’ community. Besides, it is also responsible for driving product sales, i.e. ensuring that every product from Witworks reaches out to the target user group, and help drive business for the company.
The Product Design and Engineering team ensures the development of selected ideas into commercially viable products. It crashes its design timelines by working extensively with advanced CAD tools, and making use of 3D printing technology for product development. This ensures that we retain speed and scalability for every product Witworks makes.
The Manufacturing and Supply Chain team takes it upon itself to make sure that the products designed by Witworks get mass manufactured at top notch quality. The team designs and implements systems to manage the production of all our inventions. It also takes the responsibility to negotiate and interact with the manufacturing vendors, logistics partners and customers to establish the supply chain for all products.
Witworks Office in Bangalore, India
CE: How did you decide on the location for your business? What are the factors that aspiring entrepreneur should take into consideration?
Witworks' Team: Witworks is formally registered as Think Innoventions Pvt. Ltd. at the Science and Technology Entrepreneurs’ Park, IIT Kharagpur. We started our operations from Hyderabad, but moved to Bangalore in May, 2014 for two major reasons:
A. Bangalore, along with Delhi (and other Tier-1 cities) is where our target market (the group of early adaptors) primarily reside. So, being stationed at the same place would help drive our Sales and marketing efforts.
B. The entire start-up ecosystem in Bangalore is comparatively more matured than other Indian cities. As an early venture, you need a lot of inputs, help, references and guidance. This city provides a vast network to connect with the right people and avail/share necessary resources.
This decision would be specific to the concerned start-up. If a venture’s core lies in manufacturing goods or providing a niche solution/service, or for that matter channeling skilled work-force, then it would make more sense to be located in proximity to a place where most of the engagement with partners/buyers happen.
CE: How do you plan to scale the team in the next twelve months?
Witworks' Team: We are currently a team of 6 core members, including the three Co-Founders, our Developer and 2 Designers. Apart from that we have 6 Interns from premier Indian engineering and design colleges, and 1 from a top European B-School. As we increase our product portfolio, we would get more experts in product/industrial design, as well as experienced members into the Sales and Operations team. Besides, we also look forward to build a comprehensive Product Design and Engineering Lab in future with state-of-the-art prototyping facilities.
CE: Thank you for the time you have spent with us. Any message for our readers?
Witworks' Team: We hope that all the Crazy Engineers around do a pit-stop at witworks.in and help us create some crazy inventions!